We talked with Jennifer Piette, Founder and CEO of Narrative Food. Founded in 2010, Narrative Food delivers “food that tells a story” with a focus on personal health, soil health, and the health of the community. Check out our interview below.
Narrative Food was founded in 2010, long before the arrival of meal kits and Doordashes. We were among the first companies to create food boxes that included not only vegetables, but ingredients from all food groups, sourced from local, sustainable growers and makers. We also included recipes.
When we started out, we were called the Out of the Box Collective and we quickly decided to get B Corp certification. Three years ago we changed our name to Narrative Food because I realized that the story behind the foods – where they came from, who made them, how they could be used in cooking – was the most interesting aspect for me.
Food is used to express culture and identity, so every week we use different themes to tell stories with our food boxes. This is where we get the “narrative” of Narrative Food.
Very recently, we launched a sister website, Narrative Provisions, which ships nationwide, whereas Narrative Food is regional. Narrative Provisions is largely for gifting, but will grow over time to include curated, shelf-stable items that we can ship nationally, as well as a recurring subscription for pantry items.
My biggest priorities are the health of our soil, the health of our community, and our personal health. I fundamentally believe these are all connected, and it’s through our storytelling that we shine a light on these issues.
The biggest thing we source is produce. We buy from some of our area’s best organic and biodynamic growers.
Our meats come from all-regenerative ranches, meaning that the animals improve soil health by grazing, which absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and puts it back into the ground, where it should be. One of the most important things we can do as a society to help mitigate climate change is to improve soil health.
Personally, I love discovering thoughtfully created products from skilled and dedicated food makers, like bakers and others, and introducing them to our customers. So, the boxes tell stories and also celebrate the craft and creativity of new makers and growers.
To answer this question, you have to think about what’s an appropriate scale for what we’re doing. I don’t think it’s necessary to scale nationally to be seen as a success and, when we talk about food miles and the environment, I actually think it’s healthier to develop regional food systems.
With the pantry boxes/Narrative Provisions, we ship nationally, but of course, the scale will never be massive because most of our producers are small-scale makers. I’m mindful of what’s the right scale for us and have never seen the need to measure our success in terms of being a national brand.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
In the beginning, people didn’t understand the product very well. Now, there are meal kits and various home delivery services so it’s easier for people to wrap their heads around what we do. We were ahead of the curve when we started, and that was a challenge.
Now, the challenge is that we’re an independent company. We don’t have startup capital, so it’s difficult for us to compete against brands backed by venture capital, with very deep pockets.
I’ve seen quite a few start-up companies come and go over the years, and the impact on the community isn’t always good.
As an example, think of a company setting up in Los Angeles: it does a fantastic job sourcing vendors, and they rely on that company for their business. Then, the company suddenly shuts its doors, leaving a whole community of suppliers with a big problem – suddenly their source of revenue vanishes without warning.
While I don’t think Narrative Food needs to be a national brand, my company needs to thrive, not just survive, within this competition. In turn, we want all of the companies we work with to thrive as well.
While sales remained strong during the pandemic, now we need to find ways to stay relevant to our customer base.
It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen today, much less tomorrow or next month! Right now, everything’s in such flux!
Since this summer, people who’d been cooped up in their houses for a long time were so happy to be free again to travel, to go to the market, to the grocery stores… I think we’re still experiencing a moment of people enjoying being out of the house, and so home delivery has decreased in the past few months.
I do think some changes people made in their behavior during the pandemic might eventually come back. We’ve seen that smaller companies are more nimble and able to adapt more quickly than huge national companies. When the grocery stores’ shelves were empty, our local supply chain was still ok.
Our challenge was to scale rapidly and to be sure that everybody on our team was safe as front-line workers. We had to start a waiting list after appearing in an article in the New York Times at the start of the pandemic – so it was very intense and we had to quickly adapt to serve as many people as possible.
I’m excited to see how our Narrative Provisions site is received because it’s scalable, and how it will complement what we’re doing with Narrative Food.